More than a billion Muslims anticipate ‘sad and quiet’ Ramadan in coronavirus isolation

Erwin Renaldi and Max Walden

Posted 28 minutes agoSun 19 Apr 2020,

Copied, compiled & edited by George W Rehder 19/04/2020

To limit coronavirus contagion, Saudi Arabia has emptied the holiest site in Islam.

Some 1.8 billion Muslims around the globe will celebrate the most important month of the Islamic calendar very differently this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Key points:

  • Communal meals to break the fast, known as iftars, will be nearly impossible
  • Many may not be able to meet with their families to mark Eid Al-Fitr, the culmination of Ramadan
  • Saudi Arabia is considering cancelling the massive Hajj pilgrimage for the first time since it became a nation

As per the Islamic lunar calendar, the month of Ramadan is expected to start on Friday, April 24.

Abstaining from earthly desires including eating, drinking and having sex between dawn and sunset for the duration of Ramadan is considered one of the fundamental pillars of Islamic teaching. Muslims believe this instils gratitude and introspection and brings them closer to God.

The majority of Muslims — except those who are exempt including people who are sick, pregnant women, children and the elderly — will fast as usual.

Coronavirus update: Follow the latest news in our daily wrap.

But much like the Christmas season, Ramadan is also usually a social month of feasts, group prayer and other gatherings.

Lockdowns across much of the world will make that all but impossible in 2020.

Sweet treats are often on the menu for iftar meals.

Birth of the ‘virtual iftar’

Iftar is the meal that marks the end of the fasting day and is generally shared with family, friends or colleagues.

In 2020, many will have to share these online.

“There are virtual iftars in the planning stages,” Shakira Hussein, a researcher at the University of Melbourne’s National Centre for Excellence in Islamic Studies, said.

“I’m practicing my most photogenic recipes for the Instagram Ramadan.”

The Ramadan Tent Project each year hosts the “UK’s largest open invitation” event, providing Iftar meals to the community in front of iconic landmarks around London.

But due to strict physical distancing across Britain, the organisers have turned to technology.

Open Iftar 2019 was held at a number of London’s iconic landmarks, including Trafalgar Square.

“We have turned to innovative means to achieve this, allowing people to connect with thousands of others at our virtual iftars, every day of Ramadan,” Rohma Ahmed, a spokeswoman for Ramadan Tent Project, told the ABC.

Why fasting can be good for you


Ms Ahmed said they will broadcast a live call to prayer at sunset marking the time to break fast, invite guest speakers, and provide a platform for people to share their iftar experiences.

“We would advise people to use this time of physical distancing to pause, reflect and reconnect with their spirituality, faith and collective humanity,” she said.

Month-long night markets, such as those held at Lakemba in Western Sydney, are a popular feature of Ramadan in many places.

Popular Ramadan markets cater for hungry people breaking their fast.

Due to the coronavirus pandemic, Malaysia, Brunei and Singapore have banned open-air Ramadan bazaars.

Indonesia is yet to ban the annual mass migration to people’s hometowns for Eid al-Fitr — known as mudik — however, a semi-governmental religious authority has declared travelling from virus-affected areas “haram”, or forbidden under Islamic law.

Coronavirus hits the Ramadan economy

Sundown during Ramadan in Indonesia generally sees hawkers flock to the streets with sweet drinks and fried goods for those breaking their fast.

The Ministry of Religion has, however, advised Indonesians to celebrate Ramadan at home this year, following the implementation of large-scale social restrictions in major cities.

Rika Shear, whose family has been running a restaurant in Punclut, West Java for 40 years, told the ABC she anticipates coronavirus restrictions will have major consequences for her business.

Coronavirus questions answered


“Since the middle of March, my family’s restaurant has been quiet. This has never happened before, since we are located in one of the most popular spots [in the city],” she said.

“I predict we will lose 50 per cent of our revenue, especially in Ramadan. It will be quiet and different with the large-scale restrictions.”

Instead, Ms Shear’s family is offering food for takeaway and delivery, which she said presents an opportunity to help app-based motorcycle taxi drivers.

The Indonesian Food and Beverage Association said sales will “significantly drop”, despite Ramadan usually seeing a spike in consumption.

“We are predicting a drop in sales of around 30 to 40 per cent because there won’t be any festivities, resulting in a decrease in consumption,” the body’s chairman Adhi Lukman told the ABC.

Night prayer at home

After sunset and breaking fast, some Muslims choose to do extra night-time prayers at a mosque, known as Tarawih.

Saudi Arabia’s Grand Mufti Sheikh Abdulaziz Al al-Sheikh has said that Tarawih should be performed at home this year.

Eid prayers, which are generally also held in congregation, may also need to be held in private if the outbreak continues, he said.

Saudi authorities have also urged Muslims to hold off on booking trips to Mecca for the Hajj pilgrimage in July.

More than 2 million pilgrims typically flock to the holy city for Hajj. Its cancellation would be the first since Saudi Arabia became a country in 1932.

My experience travelling to Mecca

Neighbouring countries such as United Emirate Arabs, Egypt, Jordan, and the Palestinian Territories — where Islam’s third-holiest site, the Al Aqsa mosque, is located — have also confirmed the closure of mosques during Ramadan.

“Tarawih prayers will be held at home, because reopening the mosque is linked to the end of the coronavirus crisis,” Palestinian Mufti Sheikh Mohammed Hussein told the Jerusalem Post.

Earlier this month, Egypt announced the cessation of “all congregational activities”, including the provision of free iftar meals at mosques.

Mosques will be reopened when the Health Ministry declares there are no more coronavirus cases in Egypt, local media reported.

A man takes a selfie in front of Cairo’s Al-Azhar mosque.

‘Never forget those in need’

Depriving oneself of food and water during Ramadan is intended to evoke empathy for the poor and underprivileged.

Ramadan with an eating disorder


Charity is especially encouraged during the holy month.

A mosque in the Indonesian city of Bandung told the ABC they have been planning to adjust their charity program to meet social distancing requirements.

“In our district, more than 200 people lost their jobs. Mainly they are labourers,” said Muhammad Iskandar Umar from Al Multazam mosque.

He said the mosque had paired up with local street vendors, who are also experiencing hardship due to the stay-at-home order.

Al Multazam mosque in Bandung will distribute food vouchers to disadvantaged citizens.

“They will keep running their stalls across from the mosque and we will distribute vouchers for the needy, which can be redeemed in exchange for food from the sellers,” Mr Umar said.

“We may observe Ramadan by ourselves at home, but never forget those in need.”

Ramadan activities at home

Indonesian-born Rachmi Yulianti, who lives in Brisbane, told the ABC that Ramadan this year would be very different for her family and community.

Ms Yulianti said in other years, she and other women would normally cook and bring food to the local mosque.

“It’s really sad because this year we can’t do it anymore,” she said.

Ms Yulianti said she will recreate Ramadan activities at home with her husband and three primary school-aged children.

She still wants to create the “spiritual atmosphere” of Ramadan, so her kids can experience it.

“We will start by making Ramadan and Eid decorations, which we usually buy, but now we will make them together,” Ms Yulianti said.

Rachmi Yulianti says Ramadan is a time for piety and self-reflection.

Learning to read and memorise chapters of the Quran is another activity that she has been preparing for her children.

Despite having to adapt, Ms Yulianti said the essence of Ramadan will remain the same.

“I think it’s still an opportunity to increase piety, self-reflection, and more focusing on the things that really matter to my family,” she said.

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